A charity doubleheader for the Ortega family in January, which featured Northview, South Hills, Charter Oak and Covina high schools in front of an overflow crowd at Azusa Pacific University, raised $18,000 to aid the remaining members of the Ortega family following the Christmas Eve massacre. It also showed the passion and quality of baseball in the San Gabriel Valley, where not only 2008 CIF-Southern Section Division IV champion Northview and back-to-back Division V champion Bishop Amat are coming off memorable seasons, but South Hills and Diamond Ranch return after divisional finals appearances. One of the big changes in 2009 is divisional realignments, with Bishop Amat and the Del Rey League moving to Division IV to challenge Northview and the rest of the Valle Vista League. In the Division IV preseason poll, Northview is No. 1 with Bishop Amat No. 2. “I think it’s exciting,” Northview coach Darren Murphy said of having Bishop Amat in the same division. “Our kids know their kids and their kids know our kids. There’s an unspoken rivalry there, so it should be fun. We look forward to it.”
The Miramonte League moves from Division IV to Division III, where it will challenge South Hills and the rest of the San Antonio League. The Sierra League will remain in Division II, and the Montview and Mission Valley leagues will compete in Division V. As always, one of the hottest debates to start the year is the area’s top team, and the honor goes to Northview, which defeated Bishop Amat in their head-to-head meeting in the championship of the Glendora Tournament last year and then continued on to win the Valle Vista League title and its first divisional championship since 1971. Bishop Amat and Northview could meet again in the Glendora Tournament, which starts Friday, but the Vikings will head into 2009 as the area’s top team.
Tribune’s Preseason Top Ten
2. Bishop Amat
4. South Hills
7. San Dimas
8. Charter Oak
9. Diamond Ranch
For the rest of the preview, click thread
1. NORTHVIEW (26-4)
The Vikings played with a chip on their shoulder all last season after a heartbreaking semifinal loss in 2007, which they finally put to rest with their first divisional title in 37 years.
Although they lose talented seniors like co-player of the year Marc Andrade and catcher Robert Williams, left-handed senior pitcher Eddie Pedroza, who went 6-0, is back along with a respected senior transfer on the mound from Whittier in Erick Ruvalcaba, who had a 3.32 ERA as a junior on a team that didn’t give him much help.
At shortstop, they return the best glove around in Cal-State Fullerton-bound Rich Pedroza, and Ryan Arnold, who is going to UNLV, returns at third.
With Shane Fraijo returning at second base, and outfielder Kevin Jones back as arguably the area’s best leadoff hitter, the Vikings have all the ingredients to make another championship run.
To help alleviate the loss of Williams, Arman Valenzuela transferred from Etiwanda and is expected to be one of the Valley’s best behind the plate.
“This team is incredibly talented, but the single biggest strength that this team has and (what) impresses me every game is its ability to play defense,” Murphy said. “It’s been a long time since a pitcher of ours left the field saying `the defense let me down.’ With our defense and pitchers throwing strikes like they usually do, we have a good shot to win every game we’re in.”
There’s also a different mind-set, that of a defending champion that will wear the bulls-eye throughout the season.
“Last year we dealt with the pressure of coming off a lot of disappointment having lost in the semifinals the previous year,” Murphy said. “I don’t think we could put any more pressure on ourselves than we did last year. The difference now is that we just expect to win at all times, and there will always be disappointment when we don’t.”
2. BISHOP AMAT (27-4)
The back-to-back defending champions lose a wealth of talent when you consider that Jordan Fox, Tommy Reyes, Andrew Mistone and Keith Murakami, all-Del Rey League first-team selections, graduated after combining for more than 150 RBIs.
But the Lancers had a stock load of talent to begin with, and they return arguably the area’s best pitching staff, which should help them in pursuit of their third consecutive title despite moving up a division.
Left-handed junior Paul Paez returns after an incredible season in which he finished 11-0 with 100 strikeouts and 0.80 ERA.
But the Lancers also bring back senior Brady Zuniga (6-2, 1.49 ERA) and junior Brandon McNitt (5-1, 2.51).
Highly-regarded freshman Rio Ruiz will play third, teaming with returning catcher Jerry McClanahan, second baseman Nick Bergara, and outfielder Jay Anderson.
“It’s pretty obvious that the strength of our team is our pitching staff,” Lancers coach Andy Nieto said. “We lose a lot of talented players, but we have talented guys filling the void and when you’ve got returners like Paez, Zuniga and McNitt, you feel like you can compete against anybody.
“As far as the division goes, you have to say Northview is looking pretty good. They have pitching, defense, return the most experience and have added a couple players from other schools to help. But I’ll tell you what, I like our chances a lot. We’ll play another tough schedule, and if our young guys are scoring runs, our pitching will do the rest.”
3. BONITA (19-8)
The Bearcats are nowhere to be found in the Division III preseason poll, but that is to be expected after moving up a division following a Division IV quarterfinal berth last year when they lost to Northview, 8-4.
“We don’t really concern ourselves with that,” Bonita coach John Knott said. “It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
The Bearcats return arguably the area’s most complete shortstop in USC-bound senior Jiovanni Mier, who batted .479 with three home runs, 30 RBIs and 11 doubles last season.
In the outfield, UCLA-bound Jeff Gelalich is back after hitting .423 with 18 RBIs, giving Knott two Pac-10 players to work with.
With senior pitcher/first baseman Jason Plowman and infielder Ryan Henley to go with senior pitching ace Nico Calderaro, the Bearcats are going to be a factor in the Miramonte League and Division III playoffs.
“I’ve been kind of fortunate to have this group of kids for a few years,” Knott said. “When you think about Jiovanni, I don’t know when I’m ever going to have a chance to coach a kid like that again.”
4. SOUTH HILLS (23-6)
The Huskies were just a few outs away from winning the Division III title last season before losing 4-2 to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the championship at Dodger Stadium.
Though they lost a few dominating players, the Huskies are going to be just fine with returning senior pitcher Derick Klena, a first-team All-San Antonio selection, along with shortstop Christian Ibarra, all-league junior catcher Cody Doyle, first baseman Cameron Deen, and second baseman Andrew Roddy.
The Huskies start the year at No. 2 in Division III.
“Potentially we have the chance (to meet those expectations),” Huskies coach Kevin Smith said. “I don’t think we were world beaters last year, but those kids found a way to win and rose above adversity.
“Chemistry is a big thing. We might not have it yet, but the sky’s the limit. We have a lot of talent, now we have to see how it develops over the course of the season.”
Others expected to contribute are outfielder Geoffrey Vaughns, along with Hugo Atienzo and highly-regarded freshman infielder Ty France.
5. DAMIEN (17-9)
After the departure of coach Rich Vasquez, the Spartans brought in Al Leyva, the former Claremont High coach (2002-05), who most recently served as an assistant at the University of La Verne.
After finishing second in the Sierra League, the Spartans return first-team junior pitcher Nick Amrhein, who had a 1.96 ERA as a sophomore.
Also back are three Sierra league second-team seniors who hit the ball well – Ray Ortega (.395), Mark Garcia (.371) and Matt Krause (.344).
Junior Eric Lewis batted .467 as a sophomore, and with Matt Whitehouse and Garcia expected to play a big role on the mound, the Spartans have one of the area’s most complete teams.
6. GLENDORA (13-11)
The Tartans finished a disappointing fifth in the Sierra League after a solid nonleague start but welcome back Sierra League first-team infielder Cody Regis, who batted .342 with 22 RBIs, and second-team junior infielder Joseph Woodard, who hit .398 with 15 RBIs.
Though the Tartans lose Michael Edwards and pitcher James Janclaes, they have enough returning talent to earn the No. 8 ranking in Division II.
Junior pitcher Adam Plutko (2-5) is expected to fill the void left by Janclaes.
“He has a real big upside,” Tartans coach Dan Henley said of Plutko. “He pitched much better than his record indicated. He did great over the summer.”
Junior first baseman Kyle Layton and sophomores Wallace Gonzalez and Nick Wagner made varsity as freshmen and should be ready to make a big impact.
Others expected to contribute are junior pitcher/outfielder Jacob Smigclski and junior pitchers Jacob Cage and Michael Gonzales.
“We’re young, but we’re an experienced young group,” Henley said. “They’re mostly juniors, but they’re talented.”
7. SAN DIMAS (19-8)
The Saints battled Northview throughout the 2008 Valle Vista League race and gave the Vikings their only league loss of the season.
The two figure to battle it out for the league title again, with the Saints returning one of the area’s best senior pitchers in Kevin Ponzo, who had a tremendous sophomore season but struggled as a junior early in the season before regaining his form.
Ponzo battled .271 with 11 RBIs, but the big impact offensively should come from senior catcher Jordan Leyland, a second-team Valle Vista selection who batted .370 with 11 RBIs.
Seniors Tim Brookes and Greg Aldrete also return, along with junior George Holland, who showed promise in just a few varsity games last year.
With Northview, Bishop Amat and St. Paul occupying the top three sports in Division III, the Saints aren’t far back at No. 6.
8. CHARTER OAK (15-12)
After winning the Division IV championship in 2007, the Chargers got off to a miserable start last spring before finishing up strong to wrestle the Miramonte League title away from Bonita.
The Chargers have a relatively strong team back, led by first baseman Chris Allen and returning Miramonte first-team selections Matt Ayers (infielder), Josh Surdo (outfielder), and Jake Bailey (catcher).
With pitchers Tyler Garkow, Noah Northrop and Brandon Scharf lost to graduation, the Chargers turn to senior pitcher Danny Tiffany to shoulder the load.
9. DIAMOND RANCH (17-12)
The Panthers made a surprising run to the Division IV title game before losing to Northview 1-0 in the championship.
Although the Panthers lose talented pitchers like Gus Lanuza, Nick Greene and Augusto Lanuza, talented senior shortstop/second baseman Joel Licon is back after batting .359 with 11 RBIs. He’s a big reason why the Panthers start at No. 10 in Division III.
Also returning for the Panthers is senior outfielder Russel Allan, who batted .277, and junior Derek Goodwin, who will catch but also be their top returning pitcher. Sophomore third baseman Rouric Bridgewater should also make an immediate impact.
“We have a good group coming back offensively and defensively, but we lost five of our six pitchers, and that’s tough to replace,” Panthers coach Joseph Verplancke said. “After Goodwin, everyone (pitchers) else is tied at number two. But with eight returners back, we’ll be OK.”
10. AZUSA (14-8)
The defending Montview League champions reached the second round of the Division V playoffs before falling to St. Paul. The Aztecs return a wealth of starters in an effort to make another league title run and possibly a quarterfinal or semifinal appearance in Division V with the Del Rey League leaving the division.
The Aztecs return Montview League first-team senior catcher Aaron Martinez and all-league senior infielders Hector Mojica and Brandon McGuckin.
Others returning include senior pitchers and utility players Matthew Torres, Adrian Gaeta and Steven Arceo.
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